Tag Archives: Sweet Home Organics

The benefits of trees, CSAs and funding the IDNR

December 2, 2012

Dr. Rex Bastian helps your trees recover from a tough 2012

One thing I’ve learned over my years as a gardener and a gardening radio show host is that there is no such thing as a “normal” growing year. No matter how you slice it, there’s always going to be some kind of weather anomaly that causes trouble, whether it’s cold, heat, storms, drought, flooding or some combination of the above.

That being said, 2012 will be remembered as a year where very little seemed to be “normal.” It started with an abnormally warm winter that turned into an off-the-charts string of 80 degree days in March. It was the warmest March in the contiguous 48 states in our history. That led to excessive heat in much of the country in spring and summer, accompanied by drought in a many areas, including the Midwest. Once again, we hit a new high, as July became the hottest month ever recorded in the United States.

The heat abated in some areas, but the drought has persisted, leading Illinois Extension and its counterpart at Purdue to create websites devoted to drought information.

If you’re a gardener, it’s relatively easy to see when your annuals and perennials take a hit from heat and lack of water. However, the average person isn’t always aware of the damage being done to trees, which often take much longer to respond to environmental changes. But if you’re a tree farmer, you know that it has not been a good year for your crops, and the effects could be around for awhile.

That’s why I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Rex Bastian from The Care of Trees back to the show. As you might know, The Care of Trees has been a loyal sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show ever since I started at Chicago’s Progressive Talk in 2008. Dr. Bastian is Vice President of Field Education and Development for TCOT and has a Ph. D. in Entomology from Iowa State University

And he knows his stuff. Get ready with your tree questions at 773/763-9278. We will discuss how this year’s amazing weather has affected your trees and the insects and diseases that can prey upon your trees. We’ll also tell you what to look for next spring, as your trees begin to leaf out after being subjected to all kinds of indignities in 2012.

Meanwhile, I asked Dr. Bastian to supply me with some of the websites he likes. Lo and behold, many of them are the ones I recommend to my listeners and readers. Great minds…oh, you know.

Trees Are Good – Website sponsored by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) that provides good information and links on proper tree care and Certified Arborists

Morton Arboretum Plant Health Care Report – Periodic updates during the growing season addressing current tree/landscape issues/concerns. Chicago area focus.

Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Information Services – Plant information, fact sheets, diagnostic services. Chicago area focus.

University of Illinois Home, Yard, and Garden Pest Newsletter –  Periodic updates during the growing season addressing current tree/landscape issues. State wide focus.

National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center – Short/long term estimation of future weather conditions.

Kim Marsin has a CSA for you (it might be hers)!

Speaking of being at the mercy of Mother Nature, there’s nothing like growing food to keep you humble. I know about it from a very small scale, but people like Kim Marsin and her partner Rachel Reklau at Sweet Home Organics know about it up close and personal.

They’re part of the new breed of organic farmers. You’ve heard me call them “commuter farmers” because they don’t live on the land that they cultivate…though rumor has it that they’re in the midst of moving closer to their operation at Primrose Farm, which is part of the St. Charles Park District.

And just yesterday (Saturday, December 1), they were doing a presentation on marketing to this year’s class of Stateline Farm Beginnings® students at Angelic Organics Learning Center. The program is a farmer-led training and support class designed to help people plan and launch sustainable farm businesses. Since 2005, graduates of the program have launched more than 35 new sustainable farms in our region.

I will finally get to meet Kim in person at the WCPT studios, after having spoken to her by phone perhaps a half dozen times on my show. She’s currently using her seemingly boundless energy to encourage folks to sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, like the one at Sweet Home Organics.

The way it works, according to Local Harvest, a website that helps you track down CSAs in your area is that

a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

In addition to Local Harvest, Marsin recommends checking out Family Farmed.org’s CSA page with the caveat that the 2012 CSA data is still posted.

More funds for IDNR…will that help Starved Rock?

I received a message from Jennifer Walling at the Illinois Environmental Council yesterday:

I am very pleased to let you know that the funding bill for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources passed the Illinois Senate.  This bill passed 39 yes – 11 no.

Today’s roll call is available here. The Governor will have to sign the bill before it can become law.

Thank you to Representative Frank Mautino and Senator Toi Hutchinson, the sponsors of this bill in the House and Senate.  It’s a great day for conservation in Illinois thanks to these legislators, our array of advocates through Partners for Parks and Wildlife , the staff at IDNR, and all of the supporters and advocates who championed this legislation.

As anybody who has listened to my program lately knows, I have been frustrated by IDNR’s seemingly contradictory roles as protector of natural resources in Illinois but also as an agency that facilitates their havesting and sale.

The case in point is the proposed open pit frac sand mine outside the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park. IDNR says on its website that “Outdoor recreation opportunities such as boating, camping, fishing, hunting, picnicking, sightseeing, wildlife observation, swimming and trail use create a $3.2 billion annual economic impact in Illinois, supporting 33,000 jobs statewide.”

And yet, those very activities near Starved Rock State Park are under threat because of the proposed sand mine.

I hope Jennifer has good news about how the monies coming to IDNR will be good for our natural environment.

Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” tour comes to Chicago

What do the numbers 2, 565 and 2,795 have in common?

Before you reach for The Google and start typing “prime numbers” into the search engine, let me use two words: Global Warming. Here are two more words: Bill McKibben . He was one of the first people to raise the alarm about climate change, in his 1989 book, The End of Nature , and went on to found the group 350.org , which is based on the number of CO2 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere that many scientists claim is the safe limit for humanity. Unfortunately, we’re already up to 392 ppm…oops, our bad. And it gives you an idea of why McKibben speaks about the subject with a certain amount of urgency.

His latest attempt to cut through the clutter about Justin Bieber and fiscal cliff nonsense is something he calls the “Do the Math” tour, which arrived in Chicago on Wednesday evening on the way to completing its 21-city U.S. run in a little under a month. Lisa Albrecht and I (and a few hundred friends) watched McKibben and others take to the stage to impress upon his audiences that we’re already speeding toward an environmental cliff and, instead of putting on the breaks, we keep hitting the accelerator.

That’s where the numbers 2, 565 and 2,795 come in. The 2 stands for the the global temperature rise that would have “catastrophic” consequences for our planet. That won’t happen unless the world releases 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide that are stored in its fuel reserves. Unfortunately, fossil fuel companies already have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their fuel reserves and, at the current rate of consumption, they’ll get to the 565 mark in 16 years. Think those oil guys are interested in slowing down or switching to cleaner and sustainable energy sources? If you do, you haven’t been paying attention to the political debate in the past 30 years or so.

So forget the Mayan Calendar. The McKibben Calendar has the planet set to enter uncharted waters (and air) in 2028. Unless we do something right now.

McKibben’s strategy–and it makes as much sense as anything else I’ve heard to this point–is to go on the offensive by encouraging individuals, churches, schools/universities and municipalities to disinvest in the oil companies. “we are asking that people who believe in the problem of climate change stop profiting from it.”, said McKibbon. The movement is laid out in the campaign Fossil Free, where you can find a campaign, start a campaign, download a disinvestment toolkit, sign up for updates and more.

Looks like we’d better get started. We’re already in way over our heads.

Farming aggrevation and energy aggregation

October 28, 2012

Garlic plantin’ report from Kim Marsin

It’s time for another visit from my favorite organic-farmer-in-training, Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. She and partner Rachel Reklau have their operation at Primrose Farm , which is part of the St. Charles Park District. I call them “commuter farmers” because they don’t live on the land that they cultivate but actually drive to work on the farm.

Kim is talking to me this morning on what is the final day of the Sweet Home Organics farm stand. Just in case you’re out their way and want to purchase some healthy, local food, the address is 5N726 Crane Road (near the intersection of Crane and Bolcum) in St. Charles, Illinois .

Kim says that the 2013 garlic crop is going in the ground tomorrow, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get some tips about garlic and onions. I also mentioned to her that I was disappointed in my beet crop this year and could use some advice. She tells me, though, that she had her own problems with beets this year, especially in getting them to germinate. Not only that, but she says, “We saw blister beetles (never knew what these were before). They went after our chard and beet greens.”

Hmm. Tough year for everybody, I guess. We’ll chat about it this morning.

Energy aggregation might be on your ballot…what does it mean?

If you live in Chicago, when you walk into the voting booth on November 6, or you fill out your absentee ballot, you’re going to come across this question:

“Shall the City of Chicago have the authority to arrange for the supply of electricity for its residential and small commercial retail customers who have not opted out of such program?”

What you are voting on is commonly known as a “municipal aggregation referendum.”
Theoretically, by “aggregating” its customers into one big group, a community can negotiate with suppliers and get better deals for electricity on behalf of its citizens. And if you trust organizations like the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Respiratory Health Association, the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and elected officials like 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, you will probably vote yes on the proposal.

However, be forewarned that even if the measure passes–and it already has in about 250 Illinois municipalities–it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your electricity will be cheap and, more important, come from green energy sources.

I am far from an expert on this subject, but Lisa Albrecht from the Illinois Solar Energy Association and I will try to clarify it to the best of our ability on this morning’s show. Believe me, this cannot be explained in one short sentence. Or paragraph. Or series of paragraphs. But we’ll do what we can.

You might want to start with a couple of great informational articles, one from Grist.org called How to make Illinois into a clean-energy leader, and the other from the Citizens Utility Board called CUB’s Guide to: Municipal Electricity Aggregation. As CUB explains,

Illinois law allows municipalities and counties to purchase electricity on behalf of residential and small-business utility customers living within their borders. While municipalities choosing community aggregation would be responsible for negotiating the price of power from a supplier other than the traditional utility, your utility would still be responsible for delivering that power to your home, and billing you for it. In theory, communities could use the collective bargaining power of residents to negotiate for lower power prices from suppliers. (Find out how your community voted in the most recent Primary Election.)

Individual ComEd and Ameren customers can also choose an alternative electricity supplier on their own.

But the whole thing is complicated by the history of deregulation, which began in Illinois in 1997. As David Roberts writes in his Grist story:

In 2007, in response to a spike in power prices, the state created the Illinois Power Agency (IPA), which was charged with negotiating wholesale power contracts on behalf of Ameren and ComEd customers, insuring that they get “adequate, reliable, affordable, efficient, and environmentally sustainable electric service at the lowest total cost.” The IPA doesn’t generate or sell power, it just brokers contracts between power companies and the utilities.

The IPA couldn’t just step in and immediately negotiate new contracts from scratch. It had to take over the contracts that the utilities had already negotiated. Some of them were six-year contracts signed in 2007 … shortly before IPA took over, the recession hit, and power prices plunged. As older contracts have expired, IPA has negotiated new contracts and gotten lower power prices. But it is saddled with those expensive 2007 contracts until mid-2013.

That means IPA has been getting power for utility customers that’s considerably cheaper than what they were paying pre-IPA, but nonetheless considerably more expensive than what can be procured in today’s power market. This is a key fact that shapes the rest of the story.

Now, Illinois utility customers — individual, commercial, and industrial — don’t have to buy the IPA-brokered power. If they choose, they can procure their own power directly. And because IPA contracts were more expensive than the prevailing market price, especially early on, most customers could save money by doing so. In practice, procuring power directly proved too much of a hassle for most smaller customers. For large commercial and industrial customers, however, the hassle was worth it, and almost all of them eventually opted to procure their own power from Alternate Retail Electric Suppliers, or ARES.

So in 2010, about half the state’s power load (mostly residences and small commercial) was served by IPA and about half (mostly large commercial and industrial) was served by ARES.

I told you it wasn’t easy. Anyway, about 220 municipalities will be voting on aggregation on November 6, and if they all pass, the IPA will be left negotiating about 10 percent of the state’s power load. Yet, right now the IPA represents the best chance of renewable energy coming to Illinois. So voting for aggregation might slow our march to solar and wind power (especially wind–I’ll let Lisa wax poetic on that.)

If the referendum passes, there is still work to be done. According to the City of Chicago electricity aggregation website, the city must:

  • Hold public hearings to discuss Aggregation Program priorities and goals, and adopt a Plan of Governance and Operation;
  • Notify all residents and qualified small commercial accounts holders of the prices and terms of the supply contract,  AND  allow any account holder to opt-out of the Program at no charge;
  • Enroll the remaining accounts into the Program and monitor performance for savings.

Of course, the devil is in the details: where will the power come from and just how “clean” will it be? That’s why the Chicago Clean Power Coalition has a petition urging the mayor to make clean energy choices when negotiating on behalf of Chicago’s citizens.

This is just the beginning of this story. Stay tuned.

A couple of reminders:
#1 – Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago

The Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago present The Living City for three days at the UIC from November 2 to 4.

Featuring an all-star cast of movers and shakers in the sustainability world, like Vandana ShivaJohn EdelStarhawk and more, this event goes beyond lectures and workshops. More than 60 interactive sessions and inspirational talks are planned. These will be interspersed with some of Chicago’s finest poets, storytellers, dancers and musicians who will focus on the relationship between our environment and justice for all living things. Each day will open and close with ritual and excitement. The theme, The Living City, is about using the body as a metaphor for the critical systems needed to keep Chicago alive, healthy and thriving.

There’s still plenty of time to register.

#2 – The Rally for Starved Rock is today!

This is a chance make your voice heard if you’re interested in preventing an open pit sand mine from being dug next to Starved Rock State Park. The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club is holding a Rally for Starved Rock at the park itself and nearby environs.

Hiking through the park happens from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. Then, at 10:30, it’s the “Tour-de-Frac.” Here’s how Sierra Club describes it:

Our Tour-de-Frac is a self-guided driving tour. Sierra Club staff and volunteers will be positioned throughout the area to help answer your questions.

Eastern Entrance: The eastern entrance faces the proposed mine, and will be subject to the blasting vibrations and air emissions from the processing facility.

Adjacent landowners: hear talks from adjacent landowners regarding the numerous economical and health concerns related to this mine.

Catlin Park : learn more about the wetlands, the Native American artifacts, and current air quality in the area. How will these be impacted as the mine moves forward?

Lunch is at 12:00 noon, followed by a public meeting at 1:00 p.m. at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort The meeting will be in the Joliet Room on the first floor.

I hope a few of you can get there.

Food Day, food inspired and food harvest

October 23, 2011

Mike welcomes U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky

Last week I reported on Food Day, which will be celebrated tomorrow, Monday, October 24. The organizers, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have a goal of educating Americans about healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. If you’re interested in being a part of this celebration, it’s pretty easy to get involved. This link takes you directly to events being staged in and around Chicago.

One of the people on the advisory board of Food Day is the Hon. Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Representative from Illinois’ 9th district. I am pleased to have her on the show this morning to talk about Food Day issues. I saw her a few days ago when I attended a Move the Money Chicago rally at Chicago Temple last Thursday. She spoke eloquently about the need for a more equitable American society, making reference to her plan to tax millionaires at a 45 percent rate and billionaires at 49 percent. This would raise $4 trillion over the coming decade…and it still doesn’t approach the tax rates of the Reagan years. She has also, along with 44 colleagues, introduced “The Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act” (H.R. 2914) to create over 2.2 million jobs for two years. But I digress.

After the gathering, which also featured words from Representative Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson and others, there was a march to Grant Park, to meet up with the Occupy Chicago group. I was impressed Rep. Schakowsky not only marched all of the way, but stayed to listen to Occupy Chicago conduct their business for the evening.

We will talk food issues this morning but you never know what else will come up.

BTW, here’s something that came to my attention this week. It seems, perhaps in honor of Food Day (that’s irony, folks), the powers that be will begin spraying a very toxic chemical, methyl iodide, on strawberry crops in California on…wait for it…here it comes…October 24. Also known as Food Day. Gotta love it.

[Podcast of interview with Rep. Schakowsky is now available here.]

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
Inspiration Kitchens now inspires people in Garfield Park

I had the pleasure of enjoying a lunch at a fabulous dining establishment several weeks ago, made even more enjoyable by the knowledge that it was helping the homeless and lower income people.

Several years ago, when I was working at Gargantua Radio down the dial, I was invited to visit what was then called Cafe Too in Uptown. Since then, they have renamed themselves Inspiration Kitchens, and they assist more than 3,000 individuals and famiies through employment, housing and supportive service programs.

In this case, I need to thank Sarah Batka, who is not only a friend of the show, but who is an Illinois Master Gardener who I have been privileged to meet on several occasions, and who is also a volunteer at Ellis View Cooperative Garden in Chicago. She is now an advocate for Inspiration Kitchens and it couldn’t be a better fit.

Frankly, I didn’t know that Inspiration Kitchens was now operating just down the block from the Gafield Park Conservatory. If you’re visiting the conservatory, which, as Beth Botts reported on this show a couple of weeks ago, is in need of funds to help repair storm damage from last spring, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t walk less than a block to the Inspiration Kitchen and be treated to a gourmet meal.

At the same time, you will be supporting a 13-week job training program that enables homeless individuals, ex-offenders and other low-income individuals to obtain career-track employment in the food industry. Students receive pre-employment instruction, restaurant training, sanitation certification, internship experience, and job-placement and follow-up support services.

In class, students learn knife skills, soups and sauces, baking and how to work with meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables. All students test for a City of Chicago and State of Illinois food service sanitation management certificates. Training also includes employment preparation, such as writing resumes and interviewing. During the thirteen week program, students should be prepared to train during brunch, lunch, dinner, and weekend shifts. They work along side chef instructors and graduates of the program to learn on the job.

Oh, and did I say that the food is wonderful? Call 773.275.0626 for IK-Uptown or 773.801.1110 for IK-Garfield Park. They accept all major credit cards, encourage guests to BYOB, and offer free wireless Internet. In addition to Sarah, I’m joined today by Mike Webb and Master Gardener volunteer Anna-Marie Leon (who are both cultivating the small but productive garden outside of the restaurant), and Director Margaret Haywood.

[Podcast of Inspiration Kitchens interview is now available here.]

Finishing the harvest at Sweet Home Organics

Even though I’ve never met Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics, she is my favorite organic farmer. That’s possibly because she’s willing to be on a radio program and talk about what it’s like to be an organic-farmer-in-training. Regardless, we’re getting to the tail end of the growing year at the fields she works with partner Rachel Reklau at Primrose Farm, which is part of the St. Charles Park District.

Today we heard stories of trying to grow tomatoes in fields that retain too much water. Can I see some hands out there from people who have been down that road? She also talked about the productivity of the broccoli plants, which, wonderously, continue to send up side stalks after the main florets are harvested.

The Sweet Home Organics farm stand will be up for one more week, so if you want to take advantage of local, healthy food, stop by. The address is 5N726 Crane Road (near the intersection of Crane and Bolcum) in St. Charles, Illinois.

Some stories I’ve been following that you might have missed

  • In June of 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that legalized commercial food-scrap composting in Illinois. How are we doing so far? Um, not great.
  • The planet’s population just hit 7 billion. How do we feed it when there are 10 Billion, which is being predicted for the end of the century?. Grist says it can be done…but it won’t be easy.
  • Chicago City Employees are handling the managed competition to retain their recycling jobs better than many people expected, according to the Sun-Times.

Free Green Can, which I’ve talked about on this show, continues to show up in and around Chicago.